When presented with challenging experiences, it can be all too easy to talk down to ourselves. Does self-praise indicate cockiness? Are you conceited if you value your own abilities or are confident in your own decision making?
“There is no way you can do that and succeed.”
“What makes you think you’re worthy of feeling good?”
If we heard someone talk to a friend in this way, surely we would have something to say about it? How dare anyone make another human being feel worthless! How dare they put anyone else down, making them feel incapable of doing whatever they set their mind to!
Why can’t we be this kind and protective of ourselves?
Research has shown that negative self-statements in childhood can exacerbate anxiety in those with anxiety disorders (Treadwell and Kendall, 1996). So if we are inclined towards anxious feelings, talking down to ourselves will most likely bring about anxiety.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s the end of the story though. Treadwell and Kendall also found that with some training, it may be possible to reverse this process.
Practicing positive self-statements can lead to positive feelings.
More recently Kross et al (2014) suggest that the way in which we refer to ourselves in our internal monologue can have a considerable effect on thoughts, feelings, and consequently, behaviour. Using non-first person pronouns (you/he/she/we) as well as using your own name, promotes self-distancing. In other words, separating yourself from your goals. Kross et al argue that small changes in the internal monologue can help to self-regulate our thoughts, feelings and behaviour under social stress.
As previously mentioned, practicing these small changes in self-talk can help us break that habit of negativity. One such way of doing so may be to use ‘affirmations’.
Emile Coue, a French Psychologist from the late 19th-early 20th century introduced the popular concept of ‘affirmations’. He proposed that through optimistic autosuggestion the words we say to ourselves become ingrained in our psyche.
Simply put; we believe the words we say to ourselves, so make them positive!
A simple Google search of ‘affirmations’ will produce a statement for whatever your heart could desire. However Emile Coue suggested the following statement should be said, out loud, to ourselves (perhaps in front of a mirror), as much as twenty times per day especially in the morning and evening…
“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”
To some it may sound fairly nonsensical and intense. Or is that your negative self-talk at work?
Other techniques that can be helpful in stopping that negative self-talk from taking effect can include something called ‘Thought Stop’. This approach suggests that as soon as you consciously recognise those old thought processes in action, you simply say very clearly (and, again, preferably out loud) ‘STOP’. Thereby putting an end to that harmful train of thought, allowing you to move on to something more positive… perhaps an affirmation!
By using these simple tools (and there are many more out there!) we can become free to treat ourselves as we would treat others, and develop new, more positive ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.